Black Theatre Live


Brolly Productions R&D casting for new opera

30 May 2017

The Powder Monkey: Maritime 1788

We are casting an R & D for our new opera the powder monkey Maritime 1788 which we are developing with composer Dominique Le Gendre and in partnership with the National Maritime Museum.

Powder monkey: (n) sl. The boy of the gun who has charge of carrying gunpowder from the powder magazine in the ship’s hold to the artillery pieces primarily employed in the Age of Sail.

The opera is set onboard a slave ship on the ‘middle passage’ between the coast of West Africa and the Indies set against the backdrop of British global expansion, slavery and the search for longitude and tells the hidden stories of the Lascars, enslaved people and English cotton workers.

The production opens the borders of opera by drawing on the influences of traditional music of the Indian subcontinent, West Africa, the North of England and maritime creole work songs creating innovations in form between live performance, music and animation. The production places the black male character of the ‘powder monkey’ centre stage of a diverse cast.

The opera is the second in a trilogy of operas by Brolly. The first Clocks 1888 the greener was premiered at Hackney Empire in 2016.

See Brolly Productions

There will be a rehearsal from 3 – 6 July and then a work in progress performance at the National Maritime Museum as part of International Slavery Remembrance Day on 23 August 2017.



  • Monday 3 July / Tuesday 4 July / Wednesday 5 July (Half Day a.m.) / Thursday 6 July
  • Tuesday 22 August (Half Day a.m.) / Wednesday 23 August
  • Total: 5 days

Fee: £150.00 per day (or pro rata)

Total Fee: £750


  • The Powder Monkey:  Male Black African Playing Age 16 - but can be in 20's Voice Counter Tenor
  • The Lascar: Male Asian Aged 25 – 30 Voice High Baritone / Tenor
  • The Mother : Female Black African Aged 20 - 30) Voice Alto / Low Mezzo Soprano

Short character biographies:

The Powder Monkey

Born on board a slave ship on coast of Africa and orphaned as his mother, from the Igbo in South West Nigeria, died shortly after child birth. He has been on board ships all his life and as soon as he was able was made to be a powder monkey and carry gunpowder to the ships guns. He saves the life of the captain by warning him of a mutiny on board and in return has been in his service. The captain has taught him to read, write and navigate and he is a quick study receiving the privileges of the captain’s protection. He has had a surrogate father in the form of the Lascar, Din, who is a seasoned deck hand and inveterate gambler and drinker in spite of his Muslim faith. He wears stylish clothes, which he has bought, and carries a small wooden box around his neck with testimonials to his character. He has achieved an important position on the ship as the translator as he is fluent in ships creole, African languages and English. He is working very hard to save the money to buy his freedom but this is not easy as he is often deceived or not paid.


Din has sailed the world, a gambler and inveterate drinker he believes in the sanctity – ships iron right to grog – but as he is a Muslim he suffers (short) periods of remorse. He is from Goa in Southern India and is a Lascar which comes from the Portuguese term 'Lascarim' meaning an Asian militiaman or seaman. (The Portuguese adopted the term from 'Laskar' the Persian word for a military camp and the Omani word for a guard or soldier 'Al-Askar'). He has spent time in many ports and been in many prisons unable to pay his bills and ‘shobb’d off’ into service at sea. He is the curry cook on board ship. Din has ‘brought up’ the Powder Monkey since he was a small child helping him in the kitchen. While he has a deep affection for the Powder Monkey he is unreliable and always has an eye to the main chance and becomes increasingly jealous of his progress to being translator and captain’s favourite – and forgetting his friends. Din is always busy with his hands and when out of the kitchen is working on mending the nets to ward off unwelcome traders and prevent suicides.

The Mother

She is of the Ngwa Ngwa from the Igbo and was trafficked from the interior shackled by the neck and heavily pregnant to the port of Bonny and then transported to ‘factory’ by moored off shore. She is an intelligent and strong woman who has come to a powerful and clear eyed understanding of the politics and cost of commerce. After she gives birth on the ship she is seriously ill and thrown overboard whilst still alive in order to procure the insurance money. She assumes the form of one of Neptune’s wooden angels as the figurehead of the ship and is able to speak with conscience of the boy and calm his troubled mind and acts as a guide and voice to the souls of the enslaved dead. The mother is an omniscient presence, ancestor, on the journey reminding the boy of his history and complicity in the ‘factory’ of enslavement.